Queer New York International Arts Festival: SUKA OFF
By John Hutt
Photo by Ashley Tanasiychuk
Mix the grinding noise of Merzbow with the aesthetics of your favorite leather bar, and you may approach some understanding of SUKA OFF, the Polish experimental performance troupe that is playing at the Queer New York International Arts Festival on October 25 (9 p.m. at the Grace Exhibition Space at 840 Broadway, Brooklyn).
The imagery of Suka (meaning "bitch" in Polish) speaks in a way that is distinctly Eastern European: dark gray industrial houses, the cold sky, the dark waste. For the uninitiated, the tranSfera performance could be shocking; S&M, gender fluidity, nudity, chains, and latex all become a part of a show that is distinctly and intentionally macabre. The tangle of men buried in gel, women melting off a naked man, men becoming women, all set to the soundtrack of the dark, noisy, Pre-KMFDM Industrial Music that one imagines is still played in some abandoned factory somewhere in Poland. We emailed questions to the collective and received some interesting answers from Piotr Wegrzynski.
Out: I was wondering if you toured your act around different locations. Do the audiences change from country to country? How about in the U.S.? Have you created something new for the festival?
SUKA OFF: Yes, everything is different. The reactions are different, due to the fact that we use quite strong images. Nudity in different countries is socially and culturally received in different ways. The same applies to color and symbolism. In Scandinavian countries, our performances are considered too violent and dehumanized. In Italy, the same performances are considered as romantic love stories.
The United States for us is an encounter with a whole new audience, so the fact that we are presenting here our older performances (tranSfera, Red Dragon) does not matter. For us, it's like a premiere. We do not want to test new ideas on an audience we don’t know. It is better that the New York audience gets to see our best shows first.
My friend went to see a performance and she said that a lot of the work centers around being held down, or struggling in some form or another. Are you interested in the sexual aspect of S&M or do you see being held, tied, and bound to be about another type of struggle?
The world is full of instructions and manifestos. We don’t want to add new ones. If someone enjoys watching our performances, then I am sure he is able to find the meaning by himself.
The fact that we are using the aesthetics known from the S&M clubs doesn’t mean that we practice this lifestyle in our private life. At some point in our work, fetish clubs were the only platform on which we could experiment without fear that we our work would offend anyone. Our intention is not to provoke scandal. If something like this happens, it means that the artist is either calculating and deliberately provocative, or stupid because he cannot predict the simplest human reactions. We use these elements like a painter uses a variety of colors: We like to use plastic, leather, ropes, masks—things that are linked with the S&M aesthetics. But it doesn’t mean that we use them to create S&M images.
For example, in Poland, where there is practically no fetish scene—or it is completely degenerate (and the occasional fetish events will not tolerate the sexual activity of same-sex couples)—the very fact that we use a material called latex makes us considered as representatives of erotic business. In the case of our performance “Red Dragon” it’s absurd.
I assume that if you do not like meat, you don’t order a steak. You can’t blame the cook for preparing a good meal that you do not like and yet ordered.
Artistically, who are your biggest influences, whose work inspired you as a teenager?
As a teenager, I wasn’t aware of many phenomena in the arts, so I would have to say that I was inspired by my own ignorance. Anyway, I don’t know how something I saw at the age of 16 could still inspire me. I am committed to continuous progress, search and rejection of copies that invade us from all sides. Right now, I’m inspired by Hans Bellmer, Pierre Molinier, Gunter Brus, and too many directors, photographers, musicians, designers, and architects to name them all.
I know that to place anyone in a "category" or "genre" is futile, but I have done just that. I think you sound a lot like Throbbing Gristle, Nurse With Wound, a little Merzbow; so I guess industrial noise with some electro in there? Do you compose your own music, and could you speak a little about who you're influences are in that area, and who you love to listen to?
Thank you for the comparison. I've never really been a fan of Throbbing Gristle , I prefer SPK. I don’t like Nurse With Wound at all. Merzbow, contrary to the stereotype opinion, is very diverse in style; I especially like "Pulse Demon" and "V"—the collaboration with Pan Sonic, and the collaboration project "Scumtron". Earlier, I listened to a lot of German electronic music from the labes “Hands” and “Ant Zen,” now mainly to techno labels “Stroboscopic Artefacts,” “Perc Traxx,” “Raster Noton,” and “Hospital Productions.” It’s a pity that the independent film productions aren’t developing as dynamically, especially the uncompromising one.
I started making music for the SUKA OFF performances, INSIDE FLESH films (our porn project) for relatively trivial reasons. We previously worked with many musicians from the electronic scene , but the problem turned out to be the pace of work. I understand that everyone has their own projects, and I don’t expected anyone to leave it for something else. When I do everything myself, I can very quickly make changes on every level of the project, beginning from the concept of a new performance. Of course, I am aware that this may cause a reduction in the quality of the sound. In the field of making music, I consider myself an ambitious amateur.